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Klimajugend Swiss Words of the Year turn young and green

youth protesting with placards

Young people at a climate demo in Zurich this past February

(© Keystone / Ennio Leanza)

Klimajugend (climate youth) is the Word of the Year in German-speaking Switzerland, beating out OK Boomer and Flugscham (flight shame). Vague verte and onda verde (green wave) topped the list in the French- and Italian-speaking parts of the country. 

“Young people in Switzerland, deeply concerned, are calling for action to be taken against climate change,” explained the department of applied linguisticsexternal link at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) on Tuesday. 

“And they have the determination, power and stamina of Greta Thunberg: time and again, tens of thousands of them come out on the streets to strike for climate change.” 

In second place, OK Boomerexternal link is a retort that took off this year to dismiss attitudes of older people, particularly baby boomers, who are perceived to be narrow-minded, outdated or condescending, often in connection with technology, climate change or youth issues in general. 

To fly or not to fly? Flugscham became an issue in 2019, the ZHAW said. Based on the Swedish flygskamexternal link, the concept denotes shame at continuing to fly despite climate change. 

Protests 

The top three words in French-speaking Switzerland were vague verte, féminicide (femicide, the killing of women because they are women) and flygskam

In Italian-speaking Ticino, the jury chose onda verde, sciopero delle donne (women’s strike) and 5G

In June, hundreds of thousands of women across Switzerland took to the streets in a historic strike demanding equal treatment and conditions compared with their male counterparts. Protests were also held against the introduction of fifth-generation cellular network technology (5G) in Switzerland; opponents wanted to prevent “forced radiation”.

And for the first time a Word of the Year was chosen in Romansh, Switzerland’s fourth national language spoken by some 50,000 people. Luf (wolf) was top choice, with the judges saying the “symbol of nature” continues to exert a fascination over people in canton Graubünden. Second and third place went to diaspora and unda verda.

Methodology

To pick the Words of the Year, the ZHAW analyses the Swiss discourse database Korpus Swiss-AL and determines the 20 words per language that were used more frequently or in a significantly different way in 2019 than in previous years. 

A jury of language professionals selects the three most striking words from this list, from suggestions made by the public and from their own experience. The four juries each consist of around ten language professionals from German-, French-, Italian- and Rhaeto-Romanic-speaking Switzerland.

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